Sunday, January 13, 2019

top ten books of 2018 (the final four)

Okay, so in this two blog posts that turned into four blog posts somehow (because why say in 500 words what we can say in 2400?), here are the final four books in my list of 2018's favorites.

But first... the links to previous stuff...

The Not Top Ten Books of 2018
Top Ten of 2018, Part 1 
Top Ten of 2018, Part 2 (review of "The Six")


The 4th Best Book I Read for the First Time in 2018
"DON'T BULLSH*T YOURSELF: CRUSH THE EXCUSES THAT ARE HOLDING YOU BACK" by Jon Taffer

Excuse makers seem to put more time into crafting the perfect justification for their actions (or inactions) that into working and succeeding. We all do it. And it's time for us to stop. Excuses are the common denominator of failure. - Jon Taffer 

So, I'm a big fan of the Spike TV now Paramount TV show "Bar Rescue"...

First, does anyone else remember The Nashville Network?  America's country home? I remember watching  the nightly show "Nashville Now" hosted by Ralph Emery, featuring some puppet named Shotgun, while the country stars of the 80s and early 90s appeared, stars like Marie Osmond and Dan Seals and Alabama and Vern Gosdin and so on. This sounds like a blog post on it's own, so we'll come back to this later.

Anyway, "Bar Rescue" is this reality show that features business man and bar expert Jon Taffer who goes into failing bars and restaurants and helps turn them around with what can only be described as tough love. Usually, the bars are nearly bankrupt because of poor management, so Jon yells at them to get their act together, has his compatriots teach them bartending and cooking skills, and overhauls the bars.  The level of success is debateable, as I've read stories of how some of the rescued bars still fail, but overall, the show is awesome.

Taffer offers the same level of pull-no-punches instructions to the readers as he does to the Bar Rescue viewers, but this time talks about the things that get in our way and keeps us from being successful -- fear, knowledge (or lack of), time, circumstances, ego, and scarcity -- and it all boils down to a simple "Stop making excuses and get your crap done."

I found the direct line of coaching to be pretty refreshing, and I think this is a great book for anyone who needs to pull a Toby Keith (put a boot in your a**, its the American way) and get their stuff done.

The 3rd Best Book I Read for the First Time in 2018
"REPUBLICANS BUY SNEAKERS TOO: HOW THE LEFT IS RUINING SPORTS WITH POLITICS" by Clay Travis
Image result for republicans buy sneakers too
"Sports united us and the games themselves entertained us. They helped to keep us sane amid an increasingly insane political and global environment. Until, that is, everything changed and ESPN, the most powerful source in sports media, decided to turn into MSESPN, the nation's most far-left-wing mix of politics and sports, and every other sports media entity followed their lead" - Clay Travis

Okay, first up, you may hate Clay Travis. And if you do, then keep scrolling, because I'm obviously going to talk about how much I liked his book. So don't @ me.  (is that what the young folk are saying? Don't at me? Only using the @ sign? Is that like a clapback?  I'm so old now)

I don't listen to Travis' morning show, but I do listen to the (mostly) daily 30 minute Outkick the Show podcast, which is a humorous take on sports and news of the day.  Travis will tell you himself, and has many times, that he worked on the Bill Clinton campaign in the 90s, and voted for Obama twice, so he's not a Republican, but he hates the hypocrisy that is all up in our politics from both sides of the aisle, and this book spells out much of that.

If you listen to him on podcasting, you'll know his take on how ESPN let Jemele Hill slide on something awful she said on Twitter, while firing Curt Schilling over something he said in private, and the media embrace of Lebron's claim that someone vandalized his home (no evidence) and Michael Bennett's claim to have been racially profiled in Vegas (evidence to the contrary) and some stuff about Trump and how ESPN has gone full-on left wing.  And a chapter on Michael vs LeBron politically, which lends to the title of the book, based on something that Michael Jordan is alledged to have said.

Think he's a punk and full of crap?  Well, Clay Travis called the ESPN ratings collapse two years ago, as we are beginning to see some of that now.  And he's made several more predictions of that kind, and they've come to fruition.

I like the guy, as he makes me laugh. I don't agree with many things he says, but some things are dead on. And if you like him, you'll enjoy the book like I did... and if you don't... well, like I said, keep scrolling.

Image result for the art of workThe 2nd Best Book I Read for the First Time in 2018
"THE ART OF WORK: A PROVEN PATH TO DISCOVERING WHAT YOU WERE MEANT TO DO" by Jeff Goins

"This is not a book about miracles. It is a book about finding your calling, about how you discover what you were born to do. A calling is that thing you can't not do, an answer to the age-old question, 'What should I do with my life?'" - Jeff Goins

I've been a fan of Goins for a while, especially since I finally met the guy at The Thing conference last May. He basically writes about the creative process, including writing actually about writing, with books like "Real Artists Don't Starve" and the aptly named "You Are a Writer" (which I really enjoyed).  

This is a book about finding your calling, but more than that, finding out what you were meant to do -- including being a writer.  Each chapter is based on a theme, from Awareness to Discovery to Profession and so on, with sharing a real story from each theme.

It goes through subtle, and not so subtle, hints in life about embracing failure... when trying isn't good enough... learning from unexpected teachers... building a legacy and much more.  Ultimately, it tries to help you answer the simple question of "What were you meant to do?"

For some folks, you'll find an answer, for others, you'll be reassured of what you are doing now (like me), and maybe for some, you'll be just as lost as before, but with more wisdom and soundbites in your head.

And of course, it doesn't hurt that Goins pulls a great theme from the Michael J Fox magnum opus "The Secret of My Success" to discuss happiness and opportunity. And if you really want to know what the Secret of My Success is, then just ask the 80s band Night Ranger... "The secret to my success is working TWENTY FIVE HOURS A DAAAAAAAAAAAY"

THE BEST BOOK I READ FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2018:
"THIS IS MARKETING: YOU CAN'T BE SEEN UNLESS YOU LEARN TO SEE" by Seth Godin

"Marketing is the act of making change happen. Making is insufficent. You haven't made an impact until you've changed someone. You can do this by creating and then relieving tension. By establishing cultural norms. By seeing status roles and helping to change them (or maintain them). But first, you need to see it. Then you need to choose to work with human beings to help them find what they are looking for" - Seth Godin

Image result for this is marketing
Not that I have a bookshelf full of marketing books, but I've read a few here and there, and can tell you hands down, this is the best marketing book I've ever read. Without question. And that even surpasses some of Godin's other marketing books.

Quite simply, the book is about storytelling. And being someone who sees the needs of others, those you are trying to serve, as you market to them the product or service you want to serve them with.  Its the seeing that most people miss.  According to Godin, "Marketing isn't a battle, and it's not a war. It isn't even a contest. It's the generous act of helping someone solve a problem. Their problem."

The book is a tweet factory, as I felt like I could have tweeted out 3,000 statements and one liners from the book itself, as it uses various examples from companies both big and small in marketing ideas.

I don't even know what to tell you about this book other than if you have a small business, or a large one, and your marketing scheme doesn't seem to connect -- then get it. The audio is great, as Godin reads it in his dry tone, but I'm really wanting the workbook now that will go with it.

And I want to read it again, this time to absorb more of it and try to not just read, but soak it in.

Well done, Mr. Godin. Well done.

And there you are... the best books I read for the first time in 2018...






Friday, January 11, 2019

top ten books of 2018: the six by kb hoyle

Before you hit the top five, you can check out the rundown of other books read in 2018, and the first part of my Top Ten books of 2018... and this was going to be numbers 5 through number 1, but I ended up writing 700 words on this one book, my favorite fiction book of the year, and thought it deserved to be its own blogpost.

The Fifth Best Book I Read For the First Time in 2018
This one had been a long time coming... as I mentioned before, I don't really dig on YA Fantasy.  I am only 2 books into the Chronicles of Narnia, I've made a life decision that I'll likely never read any of the Lord of the Rings books (and from all accounts, the 2.5 hour, or 14 hour directors cut, of the movies serves the purpose) and while I really enjoyed the first two Hunger Games, the third was lacking. Heck, one Divergent book and I was ready to throw myself off of a bridge -- and don't even mention the Twilight crap.

So enter K.B. Hoyle with this book series called "The Gateway Chronicles", and the lead off book, "The Six".  I resisted this for a while... I own it on Kindle, and I started it once or twice, got a few pages in and put it down. Nothing to do with the writing, as it starts with normal kids at a normal summer camp, but more of me thinking "once this gets going and dives into Narnia Divergent Maze Runner territory, can I finish it?"  And I begged KB to put this on audio, asked for it for years.  Finally, probably for me -- yes, likely because she wanted me to read it, she commissioned the audio... thank you, KB, and to the fans who wanted audio, you are welcome, glad I could get it done for you.  

So I started it, and lo and behold if I wasn't sucked right in. Darcy is your lead, a selfish 13 year old (I could have just said "13 year old") who attends a summer camp with a few kids that are friendly enough, but have a hard time accepting her... or she makes it hard for them to do so, including the chubby kid Samantha, who is the definition of a "good friend who does not give up on anyone". Darcy and Sam find a portal to another world, bring the others along and suddenly, we are in a world called Alitheia. And as you'd expect, she and her friends find themselves in a position to save Alitheia from sinister forces that wish to destroy it for bad purposes.

The book is descriptive, maybe to the point of over descriptive sometimes, but it paints a clear picture of the wonder and rich beauty of the new world; however, it's the character development that drives the story.  Darcy, Samantha, Amelia, Louis, Dean, and Perry are "The Six", and to me, its Samantha that's the linchpin of the group. When Darcy screws up and the others consider her an outcast, it's Sam that stands in the gap... the narrator, Dollcie Webb, does a great job overall, though at first, I found her interpretation of Sam annoying -- but then realized that's how KB intended for us to feel about Sam.  Annoyed, but amazed at her loyalty and friendship regardless. Without Sam, Darcy would end up alone in Alitheia and the story would stall.  We don't get enough of Louis and Dean, but I am guessing they'll have much bigger roles in the coming books.

The end of the book wrapped up a little too neatly for me, though (and this is sort of a spoiler but not really, but sort of) the book being told from Darcy's perspective, so as with Louis & Dean, it may be another case of  "a little bit now, with much more to come later".  If you read it, you'll know what I mean. 

Caution on going to KB's website... as you read a brief overview of each book, including the next in the series, "The Oracle" (which I'm told will be on audio soon), when you get to Book 3's brief description of "The White Thread", there is a major spoiler from Book 2.  Proceed with caution.

Anyway, if you have tween and teen readers and up looking for something clean, compelling and not corny, but actually with a good story, try The Gateway Chronicles.

And KB has written a crap ton of books, including another series called "The Breeder Cycle", which I have no clue or concept about, but apparently steers more Young Adult Dystopian.

On a more personal level, I gotta give props to KB Hoyle, who has always been willing to engage in book conversation, writing chat every now and then, and successfully pulled off something that I can only assume is very hard:  World Building in a story. She truly is one of my writing heroes. 


Wednesday, January 09, 2019

top ten books of 2018 (the first part)

If you haven't read the 2018 book recap, then you can click here. If you have read it, or haven't and don't care, then please proceed...

So, while I didn't hit my goal of 50 books in 2018, I did manage 42.  So while making the top ten out of 42 books seem easier than out of 50, it's still an honor that authors should be proud of.  They should print out this particular blog and frame it, putting it on the wall above the mantle, next to the pics of the kids, bride in the wedding dress, and that odd picture of the family at the lake where Uncle Jake has his eyes closed but you went with it because then-3 year old Ashley Morgan was finally looking at the camera.  Uncle Jake, deal with it.

But first... an honorable mention.

PET SEMATARY by Stephen King. The reason this isn't a top ten inclusion and actually an honorable mention is because I've read this before.  Yes, it was back circa 1988 in paperback, in anticipation of the new movie coming out with Dale Midkaff and Herman Munster, but still, I've read it.  
The original cover art, from the
hardcover book I had when I was
a member of the Stephen King book club

When I started with Audible.com back in what. 2010, I started to collect Stephen King books all along, as the new were released and the old were re-released, probably on audio for the first time.  Firestarter! Christine! IT! The Stand! So many books out, and a ton I've finally read through (though I'm still trying to get into Bag of Bones...) but the one outstanding was Pet Sematary.  Why was it not on audio?  Where was it?  Cujo finally came out. Then Desperation and Insomnia.  Needful Things. All four parts of Four Past Midnight... but no Pet Sematary??  Then, in late 2017, they announced that it would be coming out in March, and was pumped.  I pre-ordered, and on the morning of March 18th, 2018, I uploaded it to my iPod and began the journey to Ludlow with the Creed family, and onto the Micmac burial ground where you can bury your deceased pet and see them again in a day or so... only, just not the same.  Michael C. Hall narrates it, and it's thrilling.  Even though I knew what was coming, and I knew what was in the last paragraph, I still had goose bumps.  

I loved this book, and its one of my all time King Favorites.

The 10th Best Book I Read for the First Time in 2018...
"LIVE FROM NEW YORK: THE COMPLETE, UNCENSORED HISTORY OF SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE AS TOLD BY ITS STARS, WRITERS, AND GUESTS" by James Miller and Tom Shales
I have the print copy of the book, and have read some of it, but its so long, I never got through it.  They released the audio some years ago, but it contained the word that no true Audiophile wants to hear: "Abridged".  So I listened to the audio, all 8 hours of it, and it was good.  But then in June, the whole shebang came out, all 28 hours and 18 minutes of it. I dove in, and it's wonderful.  

I'm a big fan of oral history recollections, where the whole story is told in anecdotes and bits by individuals involved, and this is SNL from before the show ever started, even to the early days of Lorne Michaels, up until the 2013 season (I think), with stories and remarks from the original team, like Chevy Chase, Dan Akyroyd, Lorraine Newman and Garrett Morris to the 80s with Joe Piscapo, Charles Grodin, Martin Short, and Jeanine Garafalo, to the late 80s hey day with Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, and Victoria Jackson all the way through the Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, Molly Shannon, and beyond to modern day. Guests like Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, Peyton Manning and more are sprinkled all the way through, telling stories like Damon Wayans' infamous on-air F-Bomb to drunken drug parties to losing it on camera to the emotional broadcast after 9/11.  

Whether you like it or not, especially nowadays, you may love, like, hate or even hate-like the show, but one cannot deny the impact it had on television and entertainment history. It's long, but it's worth the ride. 

The 9th Best Book I Read for the First Time in 2018...
The book opens up with a high school coach, beloved across his town, suddenly arrested on the field -- in front of the fans, his friends, his family, arrested for a horrible, despicable crime.  Seems obvious he did it, right? Witnesses, evidence, fingerprints.  But how could such a beloved coach, father, friend do such a heinous thing?  This is so early in the book, you know there is more to come... and there is.  

The first part of the book is a tense thriller, with unknowing twists and things you know are for sure that turns out to be nothing you know at all.  It slowly morphs into a supernatural horror for the back half, though not so horror filled that it keeps you up at night.  It even includes a smart, awkward female investigator named Holly -- and if you've read King's "Mr Mercedes" trilogy, you will know all about Holly.  

Great build to the end, great climax and satisfying finish. Because it's one of his longer books, its not one I'll return to anytime soon, but "The Outsider" is a fine outing for the horror master. 

I always love a good cover, and this was
one of my faves of the year
The 8th Best Book I Read for the First Time in 2018...
"ONE OF US IS LYING" by Karen McManus
I don't read a ton of fiction, mostly because I'm more fascinated with real life stories, be it origin stories of SNL or business acumen, so if it's not Stephen King or John Grisham (I know, boring choices) or a few select others, it really has to grab me.  And this one did.

A jock, an outcast, a popular chick, an introvert, a gossip king... they all end up in detention.  And if this sounds very Breakfast Clubby, you aren't too far off, but in the movie, Bender didn't end up dead. Being the only other people in the room, the other four students are instantly suspects in the case. The story progresses, told from each student's perspective, allowing you to piece together the truth based on everything they are telling you. And though I'm someone who is pretty good at figuring out where certain stories are going, this one had me guessing until the book was nearly over (I did grasp the ending before I got to the ending, so that's a point for me).  I'll admit the ending wasn't as satisfying as I wanted it to be, but overall, I really had a good time here.


The 7th Best Book I Read For the First Time in 2018...
"GONE IN THE DARK: ONE WOMAN'S OBSESSIVE SEARCH FOR THE GOLDEN STATE KILLER" by Michelle McNamara
In addition to not reading a ton of fiction, I also don't go through a ton of true crime.  Truth be told, I love true crime (I've read every single one of Kathryn Casey's Texas murder true crime books, save for the latest which isn't on audio), but I'm picky about it. I need it to be smart, I need it to be interesting, to stay away from trashy and cheap, and keep it intelligent while breaking down things that I only know about from watching 15 seasons of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation...

(which by the way, had one of the worst endings in any series ever -- they pretty much just dumped on Gil Grissom, who made that entire show, and having him and Sara Sidle speed away in a boat? Stupid.  Where was I?)

So McNamara spent years investigating, and yeah, obsessing over a serial killer in California known as the Golden State Killer, and this entire book is that chase.  Bit by bit of evidence, discovery, interviews and all well told and well laid out.  She passed away from an illness a few years ago, and never got to see the actual arrest of Joseph DeAngelo, who committed more than 50 sexual assaults, 100+ robberies and 13 murders from 1974 to 1986.  This book is credited with helping to bring him to justice, which is pretty fantastic, and a great legacy.  Her widowed husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, gives a great afterward, filling in the blanks from the time of her death to the capture of DeAngelo.

This, plus the book mentioned in the previous book post, "Evil Has a Name", is a great 1-2 punch for the Golden State Killer case.

The 6th Best Book I Read For the First Time in 2018...
"SOMEDAY, SOMEDAY MAYBE" by Lauren "Lorelei Gilmore" Graham
I mean, I have to start off by telling you that it might take Lauren Graham writing "I hate Republicans" on a napkin 17,000 times for me to not like what she writes... so I went into this knowing I'd likely enjoy it.

Thankfully, in this debut novel from 2013, she doesn't do that... she actually writes a sweet, breezy story set in 1995, in the middle of my favorite decade.  Franny has set herself a 3 year deadline to succeed as an actress in New York City.  Well, that was 30 months ago, and she has 6 months remaining before she either finds some modicum of success or packs up her stuff and moves back home to her family.

Her roommates Jane and Dan are there to support her as she goes back and forth on what to do. Maybe she should just move home, as her ex-boyfriend is back home and would take care of her. But fellow actor James has also caught her eye.

And yes, this likely blurs the line in breezy story and Chick Book, and maybe it sorta is, but I love the quick wit and snappy delivery of the words, and I related to, and liked, the dreams and the deadlines and everything else that comes with jobs right out of college.

Of course this is a long post, so let's break it up into two... next part up tomorrow

Friday, January 04, 2019

the not top ten best books of 2018

Every year, I have full intention on reading more than the previous year... with 25 books in 2013, I knocked out 35 in 2014.  In 2015, I managed to get to 40, with 43 the next year, and 45 last year. So when I made my goal of 50, I just knew I'd get there.

In fact, I wrote this on January 1, 2018, about my new goal of 50...

...there will be a handful of graphic novels and short plays I want to read as well. I've got a handful of Neil Labute, August Wilson & David Mamet scripts at the ready. The first book of the year completed will likely be "Sleeping Beauties" by Stephen King & Owen King. Its a 25 hour audiobook, and coming into January 1, I was 11 hours in.

Well, I was sorta right. I did get through a couple of Mamet scripts, and finished "Sleeping Beauties" as well, all 25 hours of it. 

But I didn't get to 50. I did try... but I just didn't get there. And I don't feel bad about it.  See, anyone who knows me knows I do audiobooks, and I did 42 of those this year... 363 hours of listening, which equals out to just over 15 straight days of listening.  That's a ton, and I feel proud of that.

Because I'm a total nerd, I did my Excel sheet of stats to see what my totals look like... if you add in the 15 audiobooks I listened to in 2010 to 2012, plus the book totals I mentioned earlier, I'm basically looking at 237 books in 9 years.  Now, I have some friends who average anywhere from 75 to 100 books per year, so they look at my paltry 237 and think "that's nothing", but honestly, that's massive.  Averaging 26 per year, I think I did more in one year than I read from around 1995 to 2010.  I love reading, but never had time.  Thus, Audiobooks rule.

Anyway, the point here is to list the books I did read this year.  I do have a Top Ten, but I wanted to give a quick run through of the other 32... 

Image result for stephen king sleeping beauties
Great concept, great story... typical King by being very,
very long
(1) "Sleeping Beauties" by Stephen King and (his son) Owen King.  Using that knack for coming up with scenarios that you'd never even consider to be a plot, the Kings write a book about this unusual phenomenon where women all over the world go to sleep. The book partly chronicles what happens with only men in charge, and then also to this other world, where the women all end up and start their own society. Lots of subplots, lots of entanglement, and would land just outside my top ten.

Also by Stephen King, a novella called (2) "Elevation", a strange little story about a guy who starts losing weight.  Lest it sound like "Thinner", this guy also starts losing mass; this plot also wraps around a subplot about the man's neighbors, who happen to run a diner... which townsfolk don't like, because the diner-owners are lesbians. Strange ending. 

Neil Simon's (3) "Brighton Beach Memoirs"(4) "Broadway Bound" are part of the "Eugene Trilogy", which also contains "Biloxi Blues", which I loved. Eugene continues to come of age in the early to mid-1900s, filled with heartache, success, failure, crushes, family strife and more.

(5) "Your Erroneous Zone" by Dr Wayne Dyer. One of the best selling books of all time, it takes you on a journey through all areas of life that are full of errors, and how to get over those obstacles. Worth a re-read in 2019.

I read a handful of David Mamet scripts/plays as well, including (6) "American Buffalo", a dark comedy about a couple of unlikable guys plotting to steal a vintage buffalo nickel... (7) "Shorts", a collection of plays including "Bobby Gould in Hell", "Reunion" and "The Shawl", and finally, a play called (8) "Romance".  All are good, if you are a Mamet fan like I am, but nothing comes close to "Glengarry Glen Ross" (that I read in 2014). And all are full of language, so beware.

Dan Schultz's (9) "Dead Run" opens up with a cowboy in Colorado discovering the body of a dead guy in the wilderness... and then it opens up to recount the 1998 assassination of a local police officer by three gunman who went on a shooting spree, then disappeared into the mountains.  "Dead Run" looks at the (true!) story, the manhunt, the Native American trackers, and the crazy possible cover up. This almost made my Top Ten for the year. 

(10) "Mouseschawitz" is a short book by Angela Lovell giving her time as a cast member, and some of the crazy things that happened, while Chris Stuckmann's (11) "The Film Buff's Bucket List" looks at 50 movies from the 2000s that he fully recommends. 

A little life lesson via the military from Admiral William McRaven's (12) "Make Your Bed", which imparted to me that making the bed in the morning is one of the most important things I can do to start my day -- and I've been doing it ever since. And then I finally read Ernest Cline's (13) "Ready Player One", on the recommendation of many of my friends, including writer Chris Holmes.  I'm not a huge dystopia fan, but after the movie, I figured I'd go ahead. Here we read about Wade, a loner who escapes into this simulation game called The Oasis, where he competes in this years long contest to solve riddles and puzzles in order to finally take over the Oasis. The book is filled to the brim with 70s and 80s pop culture references, including an entire sequence that takes place in the world of Blade Runner...

SIDENOTE... While this movie was being made, so was Blade Runner 2049, and I suspect that is the reason that they didn't allow Blade Runner to be used in the Ready Player One movie. So they made that scene out of The Shining instead, which I honestly preferred. 

Y2J, the Ayatollah of Rock n Rolla Chris Jericho is back with (14) "No is a Four Letter Word", which unlike his other books, is much more motivational themed than anecdotes about his wrestling career.  Bill Carter, one of my favorite television authors, gives us (15) "Desperate Networks", which tells the tales of how American Idol was passed over by several networks before ending up on Fox, how LOST was ignored until ABC took a chance, how Survivor came to be and more... this was the abridged version, thus left out of the top ten.

Much of my summer was taken up by the (16-22) Harry Potter series, my 5th time reading through the 7 books, while (23) "Pledged" by Alexandra Robbins (a book that I bought literally 10 years ago, but just got around to it) gives a year long look at what happens in sororities - the drugs, the sex, the hazing, the spanx! Good, but uncomfortable to know this happens on campuses.  Another play, this one by Stephen Adly Guirgus, tells the tale of (24) "The Mother****** With the Hat", a basic tale about a guy who discovers his wife is cheating by finding a strange hat in the bedroom.

Darcey Bell's debut novel is called (25) "A Simple Favor", and is an intriguing tale of Stephanie, who is trying to solve the mystery of what happened to her (sort of) best friend, socialite Emily. Both the book and the 2018 Anna Kendrick/Blake Lively film adaptation are pretty parallel, until the ending. The movie is a little silly, while the book goes off the rails. 

John Grisham fan that I am, I finally read (26) "Skipping Christmas", a non legal story about a family who is trying to avoid the holidays by going on a cruise, but gets sucked back in when some random things force them to do so... I laughed a few times.  Better than the movie.

Go get this book. Seriously. Do the physical
copy, then do the audio, with all of your
lists and charts fill out.
Got my hipster college kid on by re-reading Moliere's (27) "The Misenthrope", and enjoyed it, while I finally read up on some Edgar Allen Poe in a collection called (28) "The Tell Tale Heart and other Stories", which features the title stories, as well as "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Black Cat".  Then, I read another of my favorite authors, Michael Lewis, in a quick memoir of raising a family and kids overseas, in a book called (29)"Home Game".

I read two books on the Golden State Killer, one of which you'll find in my Top Ten, and the other, (30) "Evil Has a Name", written by Paul Holes, Jim Clemente, and Peter McDonnell, was released by Audible. Perhaps its more an "episode" than a book, but I'm counting it. 

And finally, that brings us to (31) "Live Your List", by my friend Ryan Eller. It's sort of a motivational book, sort of a memoir, sort of a comedy book, and kind of a leadership book all wrapped in one. Ryan shares stories from his life, from where he almost died in a car crash and had to learn to walk again, from being detained in Cuba, from dancing with Miss America, and traveling the world. Do I recommend this book?  Absolutely, but I recommend reading it directly over getting the audiobook (which is how I read it, hence its not in my Top Ten).  The audio tells the story, and is narrated by Ryan himself, but there is so much to the book - pictures, charts, places to write your own lists -- that you need to experience the book for yourself and not just listen.  This is one of my goals this year... to re-read this one. 

Onward to the Top Ten Books of 2018, at least, as far as I read. Plus one honorable mention.

Friday, December 21, 2018

christmas song or it ain't

There are two songs that fall right onto the "Is DieHard a Christmas movie?" argument line and can be argued from both sides...

First is Dan Fogelberg's "Same Old Lang Syne", a soft and sentimental (though I could just say "Dan Fogelberg" and you could automatically assume "soft" and "sentimental") tune about a dude who sees an old flame in a grocery store. They agree to meet at a bar to catch up, but can't find anything open because it's New Year's Eve.  So they buy a six pack, sit in her car, drink, laugh and drink a toast to innocence.  Finally, the beer was empty and they run out of things to say, and she gives him a kiss as he gets out and she drives away.
Image result for same old lang syne
There's really nothing in the this song that says New Years or Christmas or anything else, other than its the part of the season where it's easy to reflect upon your life.

They try to reach beyond their emptiness, but neither one knows how.  He even admits in the song "just for a moment I was back in school, and felt that old familiar pain, and as I went to make my way back home, the snow turned into rain..."  So other than a reason for reflection, is this really a Christmas song?

Yes.

So why is this a Christmas song then?  Because it happened for reals.

The women in question is named Jill, and she and Dan were in the Woodruff High Class of '69 in Peoria, Indiana and dated for a while.  She went out for eggnog and he was trying to get whipping cream for his Irish coffee, and the only place open was a convenience store atop Abington Hill (in 2008, the street where you'll find the store, being the source for this song, was designated as "Fogelberg Parkway"). They bought a six pack of beer and sat in her car and talked for two hours.

Some years later, Jill heard the song on the radio as she drove for work and immediately knew it was about her. She kept quiet about it, as she didn't want to disrupt Dan's marriage, and for that reason or othewise, he refused to identify who the girl in the song was.

When Dan Fogelberg passed in 2007 of prostate cancer, she finally spoke up about her identity and the truth in the song. While she corrected the lines "Her eyes were still as blue..." (they are green) and "she said she married her an architect" (her husband was a teacher), she didn't comment on the line "She would have liked to say she loved the man but she didn't want to lie", but while married upon the chance encounter in question, she was divorced when the song was released in 1980.

I love this song and knowing this story makes me love it even more.

(FYI, it became Dan Fogelberg's biggest hit, and was an immediate hit -- he was still writing songs for the album "The Innocent Age" when "Same Old Lang Syne" came out. The wait for the release helped, as three more singles came out and the album sold 2 million copies)

VERDICT:  IT *IS* A CHRISTMAS/HOLIDAY SONG


And that brings us to "Last Christmas" by a little 80s band called Wham!, made up of megastar Andrew Ridgely and his often forgotten sidekick George Michael. Written and produced by Micheal, it was released in 1984 on the flip side of "Everything She Wants" record.  The song details a failed relationship from the perspective of a guy who just can't let go, and the only reference to Christmas in the song itself is the when the title is sung: "Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, and the very next day, you gave it away" (he confesses his resolve, however, because THIS year, to save himself some tears, he'll give it someone special)

Unlike "Same Old Lang Syne", George Michael didn't necessarily draw on his own experience, he simply had a revelation while he and Ridgely were visiting Michael's parents  Andrew says that they were chillin', watching some TV, when suddenly George ran upstairs. An hour later, he came back down all excited, asking Andrew to follow him back up.

Related image
They are even dressed in Christmas attire! 
He says, "We went to his old room, the room in which we had spent hours as kids, recording pastiches of radio shows and jingles, the room where he kept a keyboard and something on which to record.  He played me the introduction and the beguiling, wistful chorus melody to 'Last Christmas'. It was a moment of wonder."

So it's a song about heartbreak, it only references Christmas when singing the two word title, and in a whispered "Merry Christmas", which is followed by "I wrapped it up and sent it with a note saying 'I love you', I meant it".  The chick he's pining over has a soul of ice, and so much power over him that not only is he lamenting his year without her, that if she kissed him, "I know you'd fool me again."

However, the video gives it much, much more of a Christmas feel. George and Andrew are at a ski lodge with their bae (baes? bae's? what is the plural of bae? and why do I care?), and they are all about decorating the tree, having a big Christmas dinner, and looking longingly at each other with a glass of wine and a coiffed mullet.

And at the very end of the video, a title card that says "Merry Christmas and Thank You".

VERDICT: IT IS *NOT* A CHRISTMAS SONG

But... this is my post.

On appeal, ruling reversal

NEW VERDICT:  IT *IS* A DELIGHTFUL CHRISTMAS SONG THAT EVERYONE LOVES

Problem Solved.

Friday, November 30, 2018

to campbell, on your 7th birthday

Dear Campbell,

You know, we do this every year. I always start out this letter by exclaiming first how old you are (SEVEN??) and then that we cannot believe you are that old (SEVEN??)... but it's so true. Your Mommy and I are in disbelief that out of nowhere, you are seven years old.

You know what this means, right?  This means that in 3 years, we're going to have to purchase you an adult ticket for Disney World.

But that's then. Let's look at now... and it just struck me last night, as I thought through what I'd write today, that this is the first birthday letter that you could actually probably read out loud.  I mean, you've only been reading maybe a year now, but your teachers tell us that you are on a somewhat advanced reading level -- you are learning words like crazy, you are reading things all the time, you are bending over toilets in public bathrooms, putting your hands on the rim, to read the manufacturers label on the back... so, let's not do that part okay? And even though we are in Whole Foods, that doesn't mean the toilet freshener hanging on the side is there to take off and hold.  Let's move on, kid.

The list of books you've read or enjoy reading is slowly growing, though I think "Me & My Dad" and "Me & My Mom" are your faves right now, as we read them to you every night... but "Jack B. Ninja" is closing in fast, as that's one you also want to hear daily.

As part of your learning and growing, it's been a big year for you!  You graduated from Mitchell's Place in July, reading out loud your favorite thing about MP ("Water play!"... or "wah pay!"), and looking dapper and awesome in your cap and gown. And then, we moved on to public school!

You started Greystone Elementary School in August, and out of myself, your Mommy and you, I think you were the only one who wasn't worried.  We should have known you'd have it taken care of, and you did. You adapted quickly, you made friends, friends who love playing with you, and you are doing amazing right now in school.

Your friend Jack making sure you don't run off during the class picture
I've been fortunate enough to see you around school, like going with you on the bus to the Pumpkin Patch, and to watch the boys -- Ahmed and Jack and Yoto -- all want you to sit with them, and to see the girls, like Lilly and Bella, talk to you and want to read to you before school starts. It's so great and an answer to our prayers!

And you love your teachers -- Ms Carns (because her name is Kim Carns, I still call her "Bette Davis Eyes", though that's a joke you won't get for like, 8 more years or so), and your helper Ms Allie and then Ms Lenoire, and then  the other teachers that I don't know because you say their names and we can't understand it.

As always, the year itself has been interesting.  I usually stay away from politics and will do so here -- by the time you get old enough to not just read, but comprehend these letters, we can discuss, but just know for now Trump is still President, and like any other before him, or that will come after him, he has his hits and misses, and his detractors.  Politics is an ugly game, and frankly, if you never get involved, I'm fine with it.

Like last year, I have paid little attention to the music scene... in fact, I just looked at the Billboard Top 100 charts for this week, right now in 2018, and I see the top songs are "Thank U, Next" by Ariana Grande, "Sicko Mode" by Travis Scott, "Happier" by Marshmello & Bastille, "Without Me" by Halsey, and "Lucid Dreams" by Juice WRLD... out of six artists mentioned, I have only heard of three of them, and am only familiar with one of those songs.  Music has passed me by, kid, as I'm still stuck jamming to "Exes & Ohs" by Elle King from a few years ago, which might be the last really good song that was released.

I am convinced that if you want a record deal and to make a lot of money as a musical artist, you can do so, because Cardi B is rich, and this guy named Mo Bamba has a hit called "Shack Wes", and its legit one of the most excruciating pieces of crap to listen to that I've ever heard. Then again, you may like it, who knows. When you are ready, we'll pop in some Hootie & the Blowfish.

For now, though, I think your own personal top five, as listed by songs that you sing over and over and over, are "Wheels on the Bus"... well, maybe top one. You have learned "Jesus Loves Me", and "Glory in the Highest", the latter for the kid's performance at the choir event coming up at church, but you do love you some "Wheels on the Bus".

And I do love that you are really recognizing church as the place to be, because you love being around Kingdom Kids, especially with Ms Lisa when she helps you. And for someone who struggles with saying the letter "L", you manage "Valleydale" okay -- "VAH AH DAYH".

Your favorite toys this year have undoubtedly been your school bus and your airplane, as you love Southwest Airlines so much that you watch airplane videos on YouTube... and you type in "SOUTHWEST" and "TERMINAL" in the search bar to find them.  It's crazy, and funny, and super smart.

And for whatever reason, you watch elevator videos. Like, you watch videos of people walking on and off elevators.  Your Mommy remarked to me, "Why do people film... elevators? That's so weird." Quite simply, people film everything. And yes, its weird.

My fave movies of the year included a documentary called "Won't You Be My Neighbor", about a man named Mr Rogers, who I can only hope you will be able to watch one day, and Tom Cruise still doing his thing in "Mission Impossible: Fallout", plus another superhero movie called "Avengers: Infinity War". I look forward to watching superhero movies with you, as well as Star Wars stuff (like "Solo" which came out in May of this year)... but your movie jam this year has definitely been "Inside Out".
Learning to float with Coach Mary

The old faves have resurfaced, like "Cars 2" and "Rio 2" and "Frozen", but "Inside Out" has been a daily mainstay in our home for months, which is cool because I think you are learning about Sadness and Joy and other emotions, maybe putting names to your feelings, which is important so you'll know how you are doing.

We had our season passes to Alabama Splash Adventure and went several times, and you loved it! Don't worry, we'll go back next year too. And good thing, because we need to keep working on your swimming. You had Ms Keri last summer, but this year, you got to work with Coach Mary... you didn't like it at first, but it was so cool that by the end of the week, you were getting rings off the bottom of the pool, and jumping into the water, and swimming around like a little fish. So proud of you!!

And the talking... my goodness, are you a chatter box. I can barely remember a time when we were worried you'd never talk, but here you are. Of course, admittedly, our worry now is that you won't be able to carry on a conversation with us, instead speaking in just a word here or there, but I have no doubt that will come in time too. Everything about your development has come in time, and that's been a blessing.

Oh, how much do you love your Mommy. SO MUCH.
You are still in piano, now with Mrs Alaina and Mr Mark, both of which you like very much, and are playing songs like "Old McDonald" and "Twinkle Twinkle", and even though you graduated, we still visit Mitchell's Place twice per week for ABA therapy.  And you get to work with Jordan and Audrey, and see your friend Piper!

Finally, some of the "firsts" for you... your very first trip to Vulcan... your first cave and waterfall (Rock City in Chattanooga)... your first Monster Truck (the Touch a Truck event)... your first bowling (you bowled like, an 88!)... your first traveling carnival (the power went out while we were atop the ferris wheel)... your first game of catch with a baseball and glove (thank you Ethan Bryan!)... 

Okay, I'll wrap this up now, as these letters might get longer and longer every year, and I'm sure I'm leaving stuff out... but know that we love you so, so much, Campbell.  Everyone does. Your Pops and GG, and your aunts and uncles, and your Granny Jan, and Aunt Becky and your friends and their parents too... you are more popular at 7 then I ever was at like, 10. You're doing a great job.

Last year's letter talked about "Respect".  This year, I want to teach you about "Truth".  Truth is very important because honesty is a huge part of your character, of who you are, and of who people think you are. Tell the Truth.

See, there are many people out there who don't. Maybe they are trying to hide something small, or something big, maybe they are trying to hurt someone else on purpose, or make someone else fail by not telling the truth, and that will happen... and maybe someday, someone will lie about you to hurt you.  You stick with the truth. You stick with what's right. You stick with the facts, whether you are talking to your mom and myself, or your friends, or your teachers, or even strangers, you stay on the side of right, and it will be okay.

Remember, the Bible is Truth. We haven't really dug into that yet, but we will soon. We want you to understand what Jesus says about love and compassion and that sometimes those things means saying things people don't want to hear -- but in the end, Truth will always win out. And be Respectful as you stay Truthful.

You'll always have challenges that other kids won't have. But keep your faith in Him and it will work out.

We love you, son. And no, you cannot have your iPad until 6pm, so stop asking.

With Love,
Daddy

to campbell, on your 6th birthday
to campbell, on your 5th birthday
to campbell, on your 4th birthday
to campbell, on your 3rd birthday
to campbell, on your 2nd birthday
to campbell, on your 1st birthday

Heading to the doctor and getting the diagnosis

(1026)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

missing writing

I miss writing!

I miss it so.much!

Anyone who is a writer will understand. You just miss it. In the busy life I lead, which seems to only get busier as time goes by, there are a few things that have gone by the wayside... sitting down and reading a book. Binge watching a TV show.  Playing tennis so long I can barely stand.  Running. Biking.  These are things I all used to do (granted, the tennis and biking was more of early in marriage, but with no one to serve to and no bike to ride, these are harder).

All things I loved doing and have had to just simply put aside to make way for things like planning Disney trips.  Taking the kid to piano. Running to Publix for the turkey that only they sell. Taking the kid to therapy. Planning more Disney trips. Watching a movie while I plan Disney trips. Taking the kid to school. Working on the website. More kid activities. Also trying to make sure I'm a good husband who makes The Lovely Steph Leann feel appreciated and worthy.

And amongst all of those things, is writing.  I literally have 66,110 words written in my movie book... that's not an exaggerated number, because I just looked.  Sixty six thousand, one hundred and ten books. And thanks to TimeHop, I know that I've been working on this book for over a year.

And I just miss writing on the website. Thoughts and stories and anecdotes. I know someone is reading, as I check the numbers every few days, and they continue to grow (unless someone who really likes me is just sitting there clicking refresh on my website a few hundred times per day... but in 13 years, since June 2005, this page has been loaded over 433K times, which is humbling.

So someone reads what I write.

I just need to write more.

And I will.  I promise.

(1025)

Sunday, November 04, 2018

somebody to love

Queen is one of those bands who's music is so engrained in our society, so deep in our brainwaves -- from "Somebody to Love" to "We Are the Champions" -- it's easy to forget just how brilliant Queen, an in particular, Freddie Mercury actually was. Is? Are?

And that's the highlight of the just released "Bohemian Rhapsody", which I saw in a late show last night. 

Let me back up and say that earlier this year, on The Deucecast Movie Show podcast, I made two bold predictions:  

1) If "A Star is Born" is a good film, Lady Gaga will be up for an Oscar.  
2) If "Bohemian Rhapsody" is good, Rami Malek will be up for an Oscar. 

Results?  Lady Gaga has received widespread acclaim for "A Star Is Born", and will likely get an Oscar nod.  Rhapsody, however, has mixed reviews, and I'd heard a few movie pundits say that they didn't expect the movie to do well. In fact, the common criticism about it has been that it's a "fluff narrative", which only shows you the good stuff, barely touching on the bad.  And to a major extent, this is very true, so it depends on what you want to see out of this movie. 

My bar for the movie had been lowered since I'd been hearing the negative (though it's 7.4 on IMDb, so that's not nothing), but I had every intention on seeing it anyway.

The movie starts with Freddy Mercury preparing himself for Queen's 1985 LIVE AID concert..

Y'all may know Rami Malek from the acclaimed series "Mr Robot", but
he'll always be that goofy Steve kid from the Tom Hanks / Julia Roberts
movie "Larry Crown"
SIDEBAR:  For those of you not around in the 80s, or not paying attention, that's when concerts for plights of the world came to prominence.  From the "Do They Know It's Christmas?" music to "We are the World" to Willie Nelson's Farm Aid to help farmers, the 80s were a time where rock stars of the day would play music and you'd send in money to help that cause. Live Aid was a global concert to help the children in Ethiopia, suffering due to a destructive drought happening. The concert was taking place simultaneously in, among other places, Canada, The Soviet Union, Japan, Yugoslavia, Philadelphia PA and notably, Wembley Stadium in London.  An estimated 1.9 billion people watched at least some of it, which at the time was around 40% of the population of Earth.  Massive.

...and as he takes the stage, it cuts to 1970, showing him working as a baggage handler, then coming across the band Smile, which featured future bandmates Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy).  Freddie joins the band, then they bring on John Deacon (played by the kid from Jurassic Park, of which I was stunned when I saw him), and soon after, Queen is born.


The movie clocks in at 2 hours and 15 minutes, and though long (and it does drag in a few parts), it covers so much ground at a breakneck speed. One minute they are selling their van to buy studio time to record an album, and two minutes later, they are the biggest band in Europe, working on their 4th album, fighting for the right to release "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a single. 

While the movie is about Queen. it's the musical life of Mercury that drives it. His rise, his falling in love with Mary Austen, his peak, his sexuality, his bottoming out and his return to the stage, with the movie ending right where it started -- him going onstage, followed by the rest of Queen, for their Live Aid performance.  Incidentally, I didn't know until yesterday that many critics consider the 21 minute set to be the greatest live performance of all time, with his acapella back-and-forth with the audience containing what is called "The note heard round the world" (you'll know it when you hear it)

I actually watched the real 22 minute version of the concert set, and honestly, the movie is pretty close.  My movie was at 10 last night, and when it was over, I walked into the IMAX theater (theirs started at 1030p) just in time to see the concert scene again, which I enjoyed even more than when I had seen in 20 minutes prior. 

The critics weren't wrong, by the way, when they said it was a fluff piece. It is a bit uneven, as it gives you flashes of Mercury's demons but never digs too deep or spends too much time in the mud, and even his breakdown ends up turning into his shining moment at the end. His sexuality is treated with kid gloves, showing how he slowly realizes he's gay, then faces no consequences for being so (this is the late 70s, early 80s by the way).  In one scene you can see he's been doing cocaine, but that's the only time before or after that hard drugs are even mentioned -- much of it is implied, but never shown. The only bits of intimacy truly are him kissing Mary, the girl he loved early on, then later kissing a couple of guys.  Sex is also implied, but never shown and only alluded to once or twice.
L-R The Kid from GI Joe Retaliation, Ben Hardy, Rami Malick
and Gwilym Lee as Deacons, Taylor, Mercury & May

The supporting cast is outstanding, especially Gwilym Lee as Brian May, who, if Freddie is the heart of the band, is the moral compass that keeps it together.  The Kid from The Social Network and Ben Hardy (Deacons and Roger, respectively) both play their part well, and Lucy Boyton is wonderful as Mary, the lover turned best friend of Freddie. Of course, the star of the show is Rami Malek, who is balls to the wall the entire movie, embracing every nuance, every quirk, putting that little umph into every skip step  that Freddie takes -- with the flamboyance ever growing as the movie goes on, this was not an easy role to master.  Whether he mastered it or not is up to the viewer, but I'm not sure you could ask for much more. 

One of the real treats of the movie is watching the small scenes as the now familiar classics start to take shape for the first time... where Brian May, Freddie and Roger are all in an argument while The Kid from The Lost World: Jurassic Park begins to strum a riff on his guitar, one that is unmistakable and becomes "Another One Bites the Dust". Or where Brian May gets everyone in the studio on the stage and leads them in a series of stomps, saying he wants a song that the audience can participate in. "Okay, after you stomp twice, let's clap." STOMP STOMP CLAP... STOMP STOMP CLAP.

And as the trailer shows, a good 15 minutes is lent to the creation of "Bohemian Rhapsody", including the stares from the bandmates as Freddie wants to use opera themes, and the resistance from EMI Record exec Ray Foster (an unrecognizable Mike Myers)

All in all, it's a good movie. Not a great movie, but a good movie. One that a day later still has me humming the chords to "Somebody to Love" and "Fat Bottomed Girls" (though that one isn't really even referenced in the movie). I can see how diehard Queen fans will love this, or even hate it for not being as truthful as they may want.  In fact, the movie does take some wild swings with truthiness, showing the band breaking up due to a decision Freddie makes, and reconciling later, when in truth, the whole band was ready to walk, and they had reconciled long before the movie suggests, as well as Freddie telling the band he has AIDS before Live Aid performance, when in real life, wasn't diagnosed with AIDS until 1987, two years after the concert.

At one time, actor/comedian Sacha Baron Cohen was slated to play Freddie Mercury, but he dropped out because of differences between he and Queen band members May and Rogers... 

SIDEBAR:  John Deacon has very little to do with the band at this point -- his relationship with May & Rogers is reportedly good, he just decide to retire after Freddie's death, performing with the band less than five times since 1991, and not at all since 1997 -- he didn't even attend the band's induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, though May has said that Deacon approved of the film "Bohemian Rhapsody".

...because Cohen wanted the movie to be solely focused on the rise, fall, rise and death of Freddie Mercury while Queen wanted the band to be more central to the story (and likely taking out some of the edgier and more terrible parts).  Ultimately, the band won, Cohen walked and Rami Malek was given the part.  
  
Anyway, I liked the movie... I didn't love it, but I really enjoyed parts of it, enough to be satisfied with... still, I would have enjoyed more a deeper dive, perhaps an R rated film and not just PG-13, to give me more about Freddie Mercury than a few bad incidents.. 

Thursday, September 06, 2018

they call him the bandit

As I get older, the movie stars that consumed my childhood do the same. And as they were already miles ahead of me in years when I was a kid, it only stands to reason that we will lose them steadily as time goes by.

Another piece of my childhood passed on today. RIP, Burt.
I'm just awaiting the day when I'll see on Twitter that Clint Eastwood has passed on... he is 88, after all.  Or Harrison Ford, who is 76.  Or even Dick Van Dyke (92), Robert Duvall (87) or Julie Andrews (82).

Even my boyhood love Rene Russo, is sitting pretty gorgeous at 64.  And Michael Keaton just had a birthday, and turned 67, and I thought "Wow... that guy is almost 70..." and despite the number of years so many of my boyhood favorites have lived past 70, that 7 decade number seems to be my mental age of demarcation where I subconsciously think, "Okay, now they are on a 'we could lose them'" list.  I think it was Steven Spielberg turning 70 in 2016 that it suddenly clicked on the mortality of Hollywood.

And so today, while I was not shocked at all, I was still saddened by the news that Burt Reynolds had died. On one hand, how is that possible?  He's the freakin' Bandit, for gosh sake. Bandits don't die!

Well... yes, yes they do. Just like Snowmen died (Jerry Reed in 2008) and Sheriff Buford T Justices die (Jackie Gleason in 1987), Bandits do pass on.

Reynolds... oh, whatever, I'm calling him Bandit... so Bandit starred in a boatload of movies, many of which are likely forgotten, regulated to that side of our brain that is only accessed when trivia comes up, or you see the title flash on your DirecTV or Dish guide as you scroll past AMC or FXX on a Sunday afternoon.  Or the type of films you'd see on WGN as the movie of the week were this, say, 1998.  Movies like "Stick" and "Heat" and "Gator" and "City Heat" and "Sharkey's Machine" and "White Lightening" and "Physical Evidence"... these are movies most of you will not remember... well, I'd say in a year or two, but I can say later today. I barely remember them and I co-host a 340+ episode movie podcast.

Then there are the movies that he's really known for.  The aforementioned Bandit films (1 and 2 especially... 3 is an abomination, even for these movies), and as Jack Horner in "Boogie Nights", a film that he later expressed regret over because of the subject matter, despite the comeback it meant in his career and the Supporting Actor nomination the Academy gave him.  And who can forget "Deliverance", his breakout role as Lewis, the leader of a group of guys who are out fishing in the woods to horrible consequences.  Squeal like a pig, Ned Beatty.  Indeed.

He even did some TV work, spending years on CBS in "Evening Shade", a staple for my parents every week.

But it was this 10-15 year run in the 70s and 80s that made me a lifelong Bandit fan. The movies I watched over and over and over, the ones that sealed themselves in my memory as "great films" that I know upon a rewatch today, would be proven wrong... well, except for this fifth one.

Here are my five favorite Burt "Bandit" Reynolds roles:

5 - Paul Crewe in "The Longest Yard" (1974).  I actually saw this in the last five years or so, and while the Sandler remake isn't terrible (Bandit even shows up in that one too!), "Yard" is a funny and still somewhat dark comedy about a group of prisoners who play football. Eddie Albert is the Warden, as is a great villain.

4 - Hooper in "Hooper" (1978). Bandit is this stuntman trying to prove himself, even with upstart Jan Michael Vincent's Ski on set to try and be the better stuntman.  Admittedly, I hadn't seen this in a while, but I remember this cavalcade of 70s stars, including James Best (also Roscoe P Coletrane), Robert Klein, Adam West (the original Batman), Terry Bradshaw (he kept trying to act... see #1 below), and 70s That Guy Robert Tessier

Onc could argue that the true star of this movie is the car. And one
wouldn't necessarily be wrong. 

3 - Bandit in "Smokey & the Bandit" (1977) and "Part II" (1980). I'd venture to say this is Bandit's most iconic role, even above "Deliverance" and 'Boogie Nights", and if a movie about hillbilly rapists wasn't enough of a breakout, then this sent him over the moon, as he became the biggest star in the world.  And why not? This movie, with barely a script, a co-star (Sally Field) who feared this movie would ruin her career -- and who Burt fell in love with -- and an unproven director became the 2nd biggest film of 1977, behind some forgotten flick called "Star Wars".  Toss in Jerry Reed as his semi driving BFF, a basset named Fred, an obsessed, racist, rude sheriff on his tail and an iconic, black T-Top Trans Am, and you've got a hit. Make a part 2, have a bunch of county mounties and Mountie mounties take on a few dozen semi trucks, and you've got me hooked for life.

SIDEBAR:  In "Smokey & the Bandit Part II", Bandit and Snowman have to haul a baby elephant across the country. Towards the end of the film, Bandit takes on Buford T. Justice's brothers (also played flamboyantly and over the top by the impeccable Gleason) with a fleet of trooper and Canadian Mountie police cars. Snowman shows up with a squad of Semi Trucks, and for 8 year old me, this 20 minutes was the highlight of my year. It was so funny, and hilarious, and cool, and watch that car bend in half and oh look Bandit is driving over the tops of the semis and so awesome.  Problem is, I re-watched this not too long ago... its not 20 minutes.  Its 2 minutes.  And it's so bad. Everything I thought I loved as an 8 year old stayed with me being 8 years old.  Use caution when revisiting your youth. 

Their chemistry was great, and I even had the diecast car of the
ambulance they drove.
2 - Stroker Ace in "Stroker Ace" (1983). Bandit is a NASCAR driver caught in a contract under the jerkface Clyde Torkel (Ned Beatty, eating up the scenery in a very chewy movie), and is forced to race in a chicken suit. Toss in Loni Anderson as love interest/publicist Pembrook Feeney, Jim Nabors and crew chief Lugs, and a fantastic Parker Stevenson as rival driver Aubrey James, and it's a delight.  This movie is the definition of so bad but so stinkin' fun.

And finally, my favorite Burt Reynolds role:

JJ McClure in "Cannonball Run" (1981). I cannot tell you how much I love this movie. This is a prime example of a film that hits you at just the right age, a film that if anyone else watched it, they may or may not hate it. Because its a ridiculous movie, filled with stars from the day -- Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, country star Mel Tillis, Terry Bradshaw, Farrah Fawcett, Adrienne Barbeau, Roger Moore, a newbie Jackie Chan and many, many more. And they are all in a race across the country.  JJ McClure and his buddy Victor (the late and so, so great Dom DeLuise) decide to use an ambulance to race in, figuring the sirens would get them moving faster.

Fast cars, pretty girls, funny jokes, an awesome soundtrack by Ray Stevens (that opening music is so great) and fantastically whimsical theme by Chuck Mangione, then one of my favorite fight scenes in all of movies (the whole cast up against a biker gang) that DOES hold up, as I've seen it recently, all make for a movie that I would watch right now, and will be watching when I'm 50, 65 or even 82.

Yellow hat. Its funny. Because it's bigger than a normal hat.

PS... Avoid Cannonball Run II.  It tries to recapture the magic of part 1 and just can't do it. 

So thanks Burt. Thanks for all you did, thanks for helping my childhood movie fandom develop, thanks for driving that ambulance, that chicken car, that T-Top, and even that speedboat in "Gator".

East bound and down, loaded up and truckin', we gonna do what they say can't be done. We gotta long way to go and a short time to get there, I'm east bound and watch ol' Bandit run... 

Also... don't discount Norm McDonald as Turd Ferguson on Saturday Night Live's "Celebrity Jeopardy". Its one of the funniest things to ever be on that show in all it's 45 years

Monday, June 25, 2018

dino ex machina: a jurassic review

I was originally going to do this review as a part of a Dozen Movie Dash, which is a random post that I do giving quick reviews of a dozen recently seen films (which, until last night, I didn't realize how random, as I haven't done one since 2014)

As a part of the DMD, I figured I'd talk about "Tag" and "Action Point" and maybe Dolly Parton's "Nine to Five" that I just watched, and of course, talk about "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom", which I saw this weekend...

Then I realized my review was longer, so taking on 11 more films would make this an obnoxiously long post... not that that has stopped me -- I mean why say in 500 words what I can say in 1500, amma right?  Up top!

So I figured I would just give this it's own post...

The reviews for this have been all over the map -- it sits at 50% critics and 62% audiences scores on Rotten Tomatoes, and 6.7 on IMDb, and after watching it, I could see where someone would love this movie, and where someone would hate it.  If you wanted more of the same as "Jurassic World", then you get it -- if you wanted a different story, then you are out of luck.

Without giving too much away, the general story is the Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, who I really like, though I'm more a Jessica Chastain fan in the "Pick one of the two actresses that are nearly the same") is recruited by the extended family of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough, from the first film, though he is only referenced -- Attenborough died in 2014) to go get the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar. The island is being destroyed by a volcano, and Claire, who has strong armed Owen (Chris Pratt) into coming along, is to assist in getting a least a few of each species onto a transport ship, where they will be taken to a new habitat to live in peace for the rest of their days. But, of course, not is all as it seems.  

Here's the thing... we love dinosaurs. And in "Jurassic Park", we got them... and they were amazing. They were incredible, unlike anything we'd ever seen.  With "Lost World Jurassic Park" and "Jurassic Park III", some of the luster was gone, as the story was sacrificed to show us more impressive dinosaurs.  So when "Jurassic World" came along, some 14 years later after JPIII, we were ready to be dazzled again, and we were. A new generation of teen fans were discovering the T-Rex and the raptor and other extinct creatures, with new characters and new story lines and more!

But something happened between "World" and "Fallen Kingdom".  They pulled the checklist out and made sure that what made the first one so good would also be in the second one... 
  • Jerk military guy. Check!  
  • Invented dinosaur creature. Check!  
  • Claire's plucky and wisecracking assistants. Check!
  • Kid involved. Check!

And, something I've dubbed Dino ex Machina.  Remember in the very first Jurassic Park, when Grant and Ellie and the kids are surround by raptors in the lobby of the main building of the park?  All hope was lost, they were about to get eaten... and suddenly, the T-Rex comes out of nowhere to save the day??  And then at the end of "Jurassic World", Claire and Owen and the kids are cornered by Indominous Rex, and are about to get eaten... and suddenly, a giant sea monster comes out and eats them??  

Dino ex Machina.

When the dinosaur pulls a deus ex machina and improbably saves the day. And there are several of these moments in "Fallen Kingdom", by the way. It's lazy writing and was a little irritating.

One of my favorite movie jokes ever
SIDEBAR:  The official term is "deus ex machina" and is from a Latin translation of a Greek term "god from the machine."  It's defined by Wikipedia as "a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived. 

My own personal favorite example of this is in the movie "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" where Peter, played by Vince Vaughn, has sold the gym to White Goodman - Ben Stiller - and despite winning the tournament, is still under threat of demolition by Globo Gym... until Peter wheels out a literal treasure chest, informing White that with the money he got from selling Average Joe's Gym, he gambled it into enough cash to purchase the majority stake in Globo Gym, thereby now owning both gyms.  And on the treasure chest?  "Deus Ex Machina".  It's a brilliant joke that I think a lot of people never notice.  Thus, when a T-Rex or other dinosaurs suddenly rescue our heroes... Dino Ex Machina.

Overall, despite the last several paragraphs, I enjoyed the movie. It was loud, it was a little tense (though the fate of the main characters were never in ANY question), and the CGI was good. The best part of the film is what takes place on the island, though we are done there by the first half hour, and its onto the rest of the movie.  It's nice to see Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) but he's completely under utilized in his bit parts. 

I guess you could say this movie is "Brain Candy", meaning, its loud and blowey uppy and roar filled and people in danger but the real people we love are never in real danger, and Brain Candy isn't a bad thing. Its a movie you don't have to think about, it's a movie you can just watch and not be encumbered by the thought process... but that pro is also a con, because the original "Jurassic Park" is a very smart film at it's core, even with it's absurd premise.

So go see it at the theater to get the full scope of the visual and audible... but keep your expectations lower than you want.

PS... I think you'll agree with me... the first one should have been called "Jurassic Island".  This one could have been called "Jurassic Kingdom".  The final one in this trilogy (and honestly, let's hope the final one for a long time) could have been called "Jurassic World"... and you'll see that in the 10 second blurb AFTER the credits.